FRANKFURT -- A destitute Austrian is suing Volkswagen in an attempt to get Europe's largest carmaker to credit him with designing the VW brand logo, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
Nikolai Borg, born in 1919, was assigned the task of developing the logo in the late 1930s by senior Nazi official Fritz Todt, an engineer and father of the German autobahn, said Borg's lawyer, Meinhard Ciresa.
But the financially strapped graphic artist is not seeking cash compensation should a Vienna court rule in his favor, said Ciresa, a specialist in intellectual property rights who is providing his services pro bono.
"(Borg) wants VW to sign a joint statement that historical research shows he was either the creator or at least in part responsible for the design of the logo," the lawyer said.
"For that he would even be prepared to accept a legally binding agreement renouncing any financial compensation that may be due him as a result," he continued.
According to his lawyer, Borg presented the first draft in June 1939 before joining the German military. That autumn he got a letter saying plans for the design were postponed until after final victory.
Since the letter was destroyed some time later, Ciresa said, Borg has had to rely on other documents including an early draft of the logo he found in his cellar and testimony from an army comrade and fellow art enthusiast who had seen the letter.
The plaintiff is due to present initial evidence on July 6 following a brief hearing on Wednesday at the Vienna commercial court.
BASED ON NAZI LOGO
A Volkswagen spokesman denied the claim, saying the logo had been submitted to the Third Reich's patent office for copyright protection in May 1938 and was later registered in April 1939.
That logo featured the letter V placed above a W just like the modern day one but the letters were encased in a cog design instead of a simple circle.
Following the war the British allied forces had the cog changed to a circle, the form later submitted for copyright protection in October 1948. VW said Todt was not responsible for the "Volkswagen" project, originally part of the Nazi "Kraft durch Freude" scheme run by the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (DAF) under Robert Ley.
The logo for the DAF was a swastika encircled by a sprocket wheel and formed the basis for the original VW logo.
The Nazis used the KdF as a comprehensive mass recreation program that sponsored such things as group hiking trips and cruises to Norway for indoctrination and propaganda purposes.
The highlight of the KdF was the plan for workers eventually to buy their own "people's car", or "Volkswagen".
"It's true that Todt had no recognizable role in Volkswagen," said Werner Abelshauser, a professor for economic history at the University of Bielefeld.
"The operator of the KdF plant was the DAF and as such Ley was its head," he continued, adding though that the Nazi regime was so chaotic that it was impossible to rule out any indirect connection between Todt and VW.